Booth Round House (Ganymede Cottage)

(1892, rebuilt 2001) – Part of the property known as Seacroft, or Rosalind, as it was later renamed (Shakespeare’s most popular female character from As You Like It.). The main cottage, which is not part of this tour, was built in 1886 by Nancy King (Dabney) Bishop of Providence and designed by her great nephew William H. Dabney Jr., a Boston architect. In 1887, Seacroft was purchased by Edwina Booth Grossman of Boston, the only daughter of Edwin Booth, the famous 19th century actor.   The current owners have named the round house Ganymede, which is the male name Rosalind uses when she pretends to be a man in As You Like It. Its unique shape is in tribute to Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London.

Edwin was one of ten children of Junius Brutus Booth, himself a celebrated Shakespearean actor. Junius was of the bombastic style of theatrics. Edwin was the second of six sons, three of whom were actors. Edwin (at the age of ten) began to accompany his father on his national tours as his dresser, aid, and guardian.After his father’s death in 1852, Edwin found fame on his own for his profound, intellectual and sensitive interpretations of Shakespeare’s plays, vastly different from his father’s style. He mostly played the tragic heroes of Hamlet, King Lear, and Richard III.

Edwin Booth owned a summer home in Middletown, Boothden, built in 1883. Once Edwina began to summer in Narragansett, Edwin stopped using that home, though he would sometimes take a ferry from Narragansett to visit the caretaker and survey his property.

From the Narragansett Times’ July 8, 1892 issue: “H. N. Knowles is just furnishing a new building for I. R. Grossman on the lot at the Edwin Booth cottage on Central Street. The new building is circular in shape and two stories high, and is fitted up as a billiard room below and as a music room and children’s school room above.” Local legend holds that the children’s schoolroom may have served as a children’s playhouse or theatre.

For all the fame and fortune that Edwin won, his life was marred by numerous tragedies, perhaps adding to his ability to understand the subtler undertones of the Shakespearean plays for which he was famous. He married fellow actor Mary Devlin in 1860, but she died three years later, leaving him with his only daughter, Edwina, to raise. He was devastated by Mary’s death, and committed himself to the care and rearing of Edwina, creating an extraordinarily strong father/daughter bond. He spent the full summer of 1892 in Narragansett, and was planning to come for the summer of 1893, but died June 7, 1893 at The Players’ Club in Gramercy Park, New York, which he founded, with Edwina at his side.

Perhaps it is ironic that despite all of his accomplishments and fame, he is unfortunately best remembered today as the brother of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln. It has been reported that Edwin Booth was Lincoln’s favorite actor. The two brothers held totally different political views, Edwin voting for President Lincoln, and John Wilkes the fervent secessionist. John’s act devastated Edwin. He retired from the stage for about a year. He later recalled that this period was his happiest and healthiest. However, his fondness for expensive living and the lessening of public resentment drew him back to the stage within a year. Upon his return, he was greeted with a standing ovation that lasted at least a full five minutes, reassuring him that the public did not hold him responsible for his brother’s act.